Commercial Use of a Person’s Image

I was part of commercial on TV for a local restaurant. I didn’t want to be. Can the restaurant use me in a TV commercial without my permission?

The short answer is no. In New York, it is a crime for “ A person, firm or corporation that uses for advertising purposes, or for the purpose of trade, the name, portrait or  picture  of  any  living  person  without  having first obtained the written consent of such person.”  NY Civ. Rights § 50.  You also have the right to bring a lawsuit against the person who used your likeness in that TV commercial. You can sue in Supreme Court in a civil action for the damages you have sustained as well as sue for and injunction to prevent the future use of your likeness in the TV advertisement. NY Civ. Rights § 51.

A crime is something that you report to the police and the district attorney. The district attorney makes a decision if the evidence you have presented would likely lead to a conviction. The district attorney has the power to ask for jail time or imposition of fines against the defendant. Even if the defendant is only sanctioned with fines, the defendant could be subject to jail if they refuse to pay.

A civil case is brought by a private person, the aggrieved party, in Supreme Court. Although as a litigant in a civil case, you cannot seek to fine or imprison anyone, you can sue for damages that you suffered.

Normally, this is not a case that a law firm would take on a contingent fee basis. The firm would have to bill you on a hourly basis to assist you. The lawyer would normally start out by sending a cease and desist letter. The letter would ask the restaurant to immediately stop using your likeness. If the restaurant would not follow the advise of your attorney letter, then your attorney would begin proceedings in Supreme Court on your behalf.

Religious, Not-For- Profits, and other organizations are also protected from commercial use as well. Those organizations can also bring a civil action in Supreme Court against the entity using the likeness. NY Gen. Bus. Law § 397.